Friends of Seagate Inc.

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Friends of Seagate Inc. was founded in the late 1980s by Kafi Benz as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity [1] that is based in Sarasota, Florida in the United States. The organization was founded to champion the preservation of the remaining portions of the large platted subdivision, Seagate, that became the estate of Gwendolyn and Powel Crosley in 1929,[2] was sold to the Horton family in 1947, and was purchased in the late 1970s for development into a club-based condominium project by the Campeau Corporation. Unfortunately the condominium market in Florida collapsed shortly afterward and the ambitious plans to use the 1929 home and auxiliary buildings as the clubhouse and headquarters of the development were never realized. Work permits were kept alive by intermittent, but unrelated and minimal construction until the corporation began to collapse. That collapse led to the demise of many of the most prestigious department stores in America, such as Bonwit Teller, having been acquired by the failing Federated Department Stores division that had become part of Campeau.

The Seagate property changed hands several times with several inglorious plans submitted for redevelopment that met with opposition until Friends of Seagate was founded and a campaign for acquisition was begun that resulted finally, in public acquisition. In 1990 the property was acquired by the state of Florida with a division into two portions, the bay front residence and 16 acres (65,000 m2) being overseen by Manatee County and the much larger, eastern portion of the property along Tamiami Trail being overseen by New College and University of South Florida until their separation and the resulting development of this portion into a new campus only for the satellite, commuter campus of the university.

Following public acquisition of the Seagate property, the objectives of the organization were expanded to broader community development, conservation, and preservation issues involving other archaeological, artistic, cultural, built and natural environmental, and historical concerns.[3] Lake Underwood, acting as a patron to Friends of Seagate, provided much of the funding and equipment for the expansion of the organization.

Rus-in-Ur'be - marble plaque inset into a column of the main entrance, one of three original gateways to the property; roughly, it may be translated as, country in the city

In 2002, Friends of "Seagate" Inc. partnered as the nonprofit environmental entity to hold the land with the Sarasota municipal government as the eligible local governmental entity, to apply for a state grant for funding through the Florida Forever Program, (Florida's premier conservation and recreation lands acquisition program) amounting to $1,505,625 for acquisition of Rus In Ur'be, a large land parcel in the center of the Indian Beach Sapphire Shores neighborhood, as a neighborhood park. The parcel, over 11 acres (45,000 m2) and containing a great deal of wooded and undeveloped land, wetlands, a tennis court, and a Sarasota School of Architecture structure that served as a private clubhouse or recreational lounge for a bay front home opposite it on Bay Shore Road that was sold separately from the house and held for a long time by a developer. The clubhouse was roofed with glazed blue Japanese ceramic tiles, used pecky cypress timbers for framing, and had expansive glass partitions along the western elevation, facing the tennis courts.[4] The project retained its status among those not able to be included for funding in that cycle, but was sold for private development before the next cycle began. The structure was demolished and the tennis courts destroyed, plats for development with single family homes were surveyed, and a private road paved through the parcel, but no structures were built prior to the downturn of the real estate market as the speculation boom of the 1990s and 2000s collapsed. Several development projects have been proposed for the parcel. The property remains undeveloped and often is identified as a likely location for a neighborhood park.

Seagate since 1925 plat[edit]

Friends of Seagate Inc. is located in Florida
Friends of Seagate Inc.
Nearest city Sarasota, Florida
Coordinates 27°23′29″N 82°33′52″W / 27.39139°N 82.56444°W / 27.39139; -82.56444
Area 45 acres (18 ha)
Built 1929
Architect Bergmann, Paul W.; Freeman, George Albree
Architectural style Late 19th And 20th Century Revivals
NRHP reference # 83001429[5]
Added to NRHP January 21, 1983

In 1929, Powel Crosley Jr. built a Florida winter retreat on Sarasota Bay for his wife, Gwendolyn. The retreat was built along the bay front of a 63-acre (250,000 m2) parcel that was platted in 1925 as a subdivision named Sea Gate.[6] According to official county documents and grandson Lewis L. Crosley's birth certificate, the name was spelled on these early documents as two words, Sea Gate, but has become contracted in use over the years, including the name of the street (the original driveway) leading to the building, which was renamed as, Seagate Drive, by the county. Platted as part of Hillsborough County when Florida was surveyed following acquisition by the United States, this land always has been associated culturally with Sarasota because of it being south of the natural land transportation barrier, Bowlees Creek. Seagate bears a property address and a postal designation of Sarasota for this reason, however, when Hillsborough became subdivided the governmental oversight went to the new Manatee County, which later was subdivided as well to create other counties including the new Sarasota County in 1921. The arbitrary line chosen to delineate the new county line during the last change was drawn at the southern boundary of Seagate and everything to the north remained within Manatee County. Sarasota addresses remain from that line to the creek.

The two-and-a-half-story Mediterranean Revival style house, and the auxiliary garages and living quarters for staff, designed under the auspices of New York architect George Albree Freeman, Jr. by Ivo A. de Minicis, were built in the southwest corner of Manatee County by Paul W. Bergmann. The house contains ten bedrooms and the same number of bathrooms. It would serve as a "fish camp" that was used mostly in the winter, but staff would remain throughout the year.

Seagate was the first residence built in Florida using fireproof steel frame construction that provided protection against hurricanes, as well. The cross-axis design and a circular tower that contains a second story teak-lined study with metal oculi are significant elements of the house. Other important features included double louvered and screened pocket doors and transoms for all rooms that could provide privacy while allowing the natural flow of on-shore and off-shore sea breezes to cool the house through window and door grilles and rejas; a telephony system wired into the walls of the house and servant quarters; electrical wiring under the tiles in the floors to provide power for table and standing lamps; chamfered and polychrome stenciled pecky cypress beams; galleon carvings on the loggia; massive carved doors and woodwork designed and installed by the Zoller Lumber Company; terra cotta tile floors that were laid into unique designs for each room and the main staircase; detailed plaster ornamentation; and stained glass of ochre and lavender randomly placed in casement and French windows. External features included flagstone detailing of the patio, walkways, and entry porte-cochere, fountains, a swimming pool, a seaplane dock, and a yacht basin. Crosley had a deep path dredged from the center of the bay to a berth that accommodated his yachts [7] and the seaplane in which the Crosleys regularly flew to Sarasota from Cincinnati, as well as to resorts. Tide level indicators were built into the walls of the berth. The berth remains as a current aspect of the property. A wind indicator to alert Crosley to changes in wind conditions, swept around the ceiling of his second-story study. It was driven by a distinctive weathervane atop a tower built into the house. The circular tower has a bank of windows along the entire curve, providing a broad vista overlooking the bay.[8]

Powel Crosley, Jr. in 1940s ad - Sarasota History Center

After the death of his wife, Gwendolyn, from tuberculosis at the retreat in 1939, Powel Crosley all but abandoned the house. During World War II, Crosley allowed the Army Air Corps use of the retreat to house men learning to fly fighter planes and the officers of the staff who trained them at the Sarasota Army Air Base. A nightclub was operated there for a brief period.

Following the war, the property was sold and the large portion west of Tamiami Trail was retained as a residence by the Mabel and Freeman Horton family for forty years. The Horton family members include early pioneers who held the first European homestead on the same property during the 1800s. Freeman Horton was an accomplished engineer who was best known for building the original Sunshine Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay from Saint Petersburg in Pinellas County through the waters of Hillsborough County to Tiera Ceia in Manatee County that replaced a ferry service between the two land areas. [1]

In an unusual listing that included all of the remaining 45 acres (180,000 m2), the property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 by a purchaser who intended to build an exclusive condominium project on the site using the historic house as a clubhouse. Most historic listings only include structures. The project failed when the economy faltered shortly thereafter.[9] Seagate was saved from commercial development by the efforts of adjacent residents led by Kafi Benz, who opposed several ensuing proposals for development.[10][11] She founded Friends of “Seagate” Inc., initiated a campaign for preservation, and began a fundraising effort for acquisition.[12] The distinctive weathervane atop the tower of the building was chosen as the logo for the organization.

Documentation by the state of a breeding pair of eagles in a registered nest on the Seagate property contributed to preservation efforts

The property was assessed by Benz for its archaeological, architectural, biological, cultural, environmental, and historical aspects. Extensive photographic documentation of the structures was prepared and research on the historical records associated with the property and its residents was conducted. The eagle nest was registered through the state department of environmental protection. Documented with the assistance of a board member of Friends of Seagate, photographer Arthur E. "Mike" deLoach, it was designated as nest "Number Nine" for Manatee County after its assessment by the state.

An archaeological survey of the property was conducted and registered by Kafi Benz that was led by Dudley E. DeGroot,[13][14][15][16] her companion and a director on the board of the Friends of Seagate organization.[17] Jerris Foote, a fellow director with Benz of the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation, Inc., also participated in the survey. The site is an area inhabited in the archaic period by the Calusa. Nearby fresh water access is documented in early plats that may have been constant, since adjacent middens attest to a long period of occupation. Several attempts were made to locate and identify a distinctive structure on the property described by the longtime resident at Seagate, Allan Horton, [2] as a compacted, raised earthen platform that was elevated evenly at eighteen to twenty-four inches and perfectly circular, with a diameter of thirty-two feet that resembled the ancient dancing or ceremonial platform discovered elsewhere in the state by archaeologists. An entrance sign for a drive-in theater, the landmark which he always had used to locate the structure had been demolished on the adjacent parcel, making the location process difficult. Also, a path for electrical service poles had been created that traversed the area and disturbed an area with mounds nearby, perhaps destroying the structure in the process.

In co-operation with the Trust for Public Land, [3] an acquisition contract was negotiated between Friends of Seagate and Campeau and, a few weeks short of the signing of the contract, in 1991 the property was purchased by the state of Florida. The smaller portion of the property, 16 acres (65,000 m2) of the original subdivision along the bay front, containing the structures built by Powel Crosley, was designated for renovation by Manatee County while the larger portion of the property was designated for the University of South Florida and New College of Florida for future expansion. The archaeological survey of the property prepared by Friends of Seagate was provided to the county property appraiser, Frank Perkins IV, [4] for inclusion in the assessment and proposal for acquisition by the state.

Initially, the property was the subject of environmental studies by New College staff and students. The habitat supported two populations of gopher tortoise and the concomitant animals associated with that habitat such as indigo snakes, and also included the registered eagle nesting site. Other birds associated with the site are hawks, osprey, owls, woodpeckers, and waders such as the roseate spoonbill. A great rookery of herons and egrets took advantage of the isolated property. Horseshoe crabs used the secluded beach as a breeding location.

Today, the 1929 historic structure houses the Powel Crosley Estate, and is used as a meeting, conference, and event venue sometimes referred to as the Crosley mansion. The estate is aided by fundraising through the Crosley Estate Foundation. In a re-separation of New College from the University of South Florida, the satellite campus for the Tampa-based university was removed from the original New College campus on the nearby Edith Ringling estate and a solo campus was created on the eastern portion of the Seagate property for use by the university alone.

An extensive design process for the new campus entailed an around-the-clock design charrette lasting several days during which Kafi Benz participated, providing tours of the property and many details to the design team. The concentration of the facility into a single building and its location were derived from a plan proposed by her to use the open space on the parcel for the construction in order to preserve the uplands slash pine forest that dominated the eastern portion of the property.

Although the concentrated design plan suggested by Benz was selected and built, the forest was sacrificed by the university to reduce costs by creating surface parking rather than constructing the planned parking facility. Except for a small stand in which gopher tortoise habitat existed, almost every mature pine tree was lost to a clear-cut of the property that would become a parking lot for the new campus. That small stand was divided by a new entrance driveway as well. The driveway was elevated to accommodate tunnels designed for the animals to be able to avoid crossing the roadway. The former wetlands on the property was excavated to create a storm water retention area landscaped to resemble a lake and oak seedlings were planted in landscaped islands created among the rows of asphalt. The university has projected that it will have outgrown the facility within twenty years.

A small portion of the natural habitat of the massive parcel remains to the north of the Crosley home, beyond the yacht basin. A narrow beachfront extends into the bay from a steep bank that was enlarged by fill. The fill was dumped from dredges for access to the basin in 1929 and later. Beyond the fill are a few exotic trees introduced for flood control and landscape value, but native vegetation remains among only a few invasive species. Longleaf pine as well as second growth slash pine of great age remain in undisturbed areas. Threats of its development arise, however, as schemes for potential use of the remaining portion of the property are presented to the county government officials frequently.


  1. ^ listing of tax-exempt nonprofit charities in Sarasota, Florida
  2. ^ Manatee County site for the Crosley Estate event facility established on sixteen bay front acres of the property and sometimes referred to as the Crosley mansion
  3. ^ Listing in Florida Administrative Weekly, volume 28, number 50, State of Florida, December 13, 2002 documenting participation in environmental preservation through a $1.5 million acquisition grant to Friends of Seagate in partnership with local city government to purchase land for a park in the Indian Beach Sapphire Shores neighborhood in Sarasota
  4. ^ Parks and Open Space 2002 Funding Status Report, State of Florida, Florida Forever Cycle FF2, Florida Communities Trust - Department of Community Affairs, 2002.
  5. ^ National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  6. ^ LaHurd, Jeff, Powel Crosley, Jr. remembered as a visionary, Sarasota Herald Tribune, Sunday, November 15, 2015, page B-1
  7. ^ Righter, Elizabeth, Crosley's yacht has long rich history, page BS4, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, December 1, 2006 - the Crosley yacht, Argo, its history, a historic photograph, and contemporary use are discussed
  8. ^ Benz, Kafi, Notes for tours of Seagate, Friends of Seagate Inc., 1988 - brochure containing her illustration of the house, extensive details of the appointments of the buildings, the property, its history, and the history of the residents of the property since the mid-nineteenth century; published by Seagate Press since 1991
  9. ^ Galarza, Carlos, Campeau's Bay Front Land Remains in Real Estate Limbo, page B1, Bradenton Herald, September 20, 1990
  10. ^ Caranna, Kenwyn and Galarza, Carlos, Historic But Dilapidated Estate Wins Reprive, page A1, Bradenton Herald, August 15, 1990
  11. ^ Caranna, Kenyn, Eagle Find Has Growth Foes Flying High, page B1, Bradenton Herald, November 30, 1990
  12. ^ Sarasota Magazine, May 1, 1992
  13. ^ obituary - Dudley E. DeGroot,
  14. ^ Santee, Amy L., Dudley E. DeGroot, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, 1927-2012, Anthropologizing, December 12, 2012
  15. ^ Dudley Edward DeGroot obituary
  16. ^ Meacham, Andrew, Eckerd professor, Navy Reserve Rear Adm. Dudley DeGroot dies at 85, Tampa Bay Times, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
  17. ^ An Historic Resources Survey of the Coastal Zone of Sarasota County, Florida, prepared for the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners, Sarasota County Department of Natural Resources, and the Sarasota County Department of Historical Resources by the University of South Florida Department of Anthropology, Tampa, Florida for the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation per CM.235 Agreement for Cultural Resources Management; March 1990, pp. 5, 213 "...A great deal of information was generously shared by colleagues and concerned Sarasota County residents. We wish to acknowledge the special contributions of the following: ... Kafi Benz, Dudley deGroot ..."